High cost of hay in Alberta could drive up beef prices, put livestock producers out of business

A spike in hay prices in Alberta and across much of Western Canada has some livestock producers fearful of what’s to come.

A lack of feed could not only make the beef on your plate more expensive — it could also put producers out of business.

“We have about 1,100 head on the ranch we have to feed this winter,” TK Ranch co-owner Colleen Biggs said.

Biggs is just one of many livestock producers in Alberta unsure how they will be able to feed their cattle in the coming months.

“We have a widespread drought across Canada, basically right from western Ontario all the way to central British Columbia, and this has created a significant feed shortage all across the country,” Biggs said.

Read more: Alberta ranchers struggling to feed cattle amidst extreme drought

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Biggs said the drought has caused the price of hay to skyrocket, with some producers being charged double or even triple the normal asking price.

‘We are faced with trying to source several large round bales for our cattle in a climate where there’s really not a lot of feed a available,” Biggs said.

Tracy Benkendorf, president of Adorado Horse Rescue and Sanctuary, at the Edmonton-area facility on Thursday, August 19, 2021. Global News

Producers aren’t the only ones in a bind.

“It’s a very scary time and I’m not sure how things are going to go,” said Tracy Benkendorf, the president of Adorado Horse Rescue and Sanctuary.

Benkendorf operates a horse rescue in the Edmonton area and is also on the hunt for hay — she desperately needs to feed the rescue’s nearly 100 horses.

To get through the winter, Benkendorf said her horses need about 450 to 500 round bales — which usually costs her about $35,000. She said right now, that same volume is selling for upwards of $60,000.

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The rescue’s annual donations do not usually exceed $25,000, Benkendorf said, adding she can usually make up the difference with her own funds — but not this year.

Read more: Severe drought in Alberta brings on early harvest

That said, Benkendorf stresses euthanizing some of her horses to cut costs is a non-starter.

“It’s not even a question of putting them down. The one farmer I know said, ‘You’re going to have to cull them,’ so he’s talking about sending them to slaughter — I’ve saved them from slaughter, they’re not going there.”

Read more: $10K in hay bales slated for donation instead stolen from Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park

The rescue is fundraising to buy bales and some producers fear if this feed shortage continues, Albertans will have to dig deeper into their wallets as well.

“As the shortage comes into play, it definitely will cause the price at the store to increase over the next couple of years,” Rancher Kirk Sortland said.

Sortland said the lack of feed has already forced many ranchers to start selling their livestock — a position Biggs hopes to never be in.

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“If we have to sell our cows, you know that really puts us out of business unfortunately,” Biggs said.

Read more: CFA working on initiative to send hay from Eastern Canada to Western farmers

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